20 years of Rick Owens at the Triennale di Milano

The exhibition presents not only clothes, but also lilies, concrete, hair and earth. The career of the visionary designer par excellence in an exhibition which is a combination of primordial forces and extreme modernity.

Rick Owens.Subhuman Inhuman Superhuman, veduta della mostra, Triennale di Milano, 2017

The big names in global luxury, in describing their work, cite Gilles Deleuze and his description of the act of creativity as an act of resistance. The exhibition dedicated to twenty years of career for Rick Owens reminds us how the designer is one of the few - very few - who can apply this definition to themselves without fear of contradiction. One of the factors underlining this coherence is the fact that since 2004, the year in which Owenscorp was founded, the brand has been completely independent. A visionary designer, with a complex, transverse and highly artistic approach, his world - presented in detail at the Milan Triennale, is complex, stratified, rich with allusions to cultures, rituals and images, in constant transition between an ancestral past and the most anti-conventional forms of the present - goth, punk, grunge.

Visitors are welcomed by a monumental entrance, to then pass from the darkness to a wall of light beams. This double entrance leads one to immediately understand that they are entering a universe which is unlike that which habitual visitors to Triennale exhibitions are used to. 

Fig.0 Rick Owens.Subhuman Inhuman Superhuman, exhibition view, Triennale di Milano, 2017
Rick Owens.Subhuman Inhuman Superhuman, exhibition view, Triennale di Milano, 2017

The work of Rick Owens is the controlled progression of contrasting elements, the archaic and the contemporary are elevated to a spiritual dimension of clothing. He himself describes the exhibition thus: “I’ve installed a black glittering howl of ego, self-doubt, love, rage, and joy in the Triennale di Milano, composed of concrete, lilies, my hair and the earth from the seaside in Venice where I will someday be buried.”

This fascination for ritualism and primordial forces is the source of the exhibited clothes, with their deconstructions in leather, felt and canvas - a recollection of the earliest projects with military uniforms and bags from Vietnam -, woollen weaves, drapes of silk, cashmere and jersey, wrapped and unbalanced around and beyond the body. Every section is matched with iconic pieces grouped by colour. There is no chronology, almost as if to underline the timelessness of the collections. The overcoats with Assyrian-Babilonian echoes, large collars and capes exalt the body and take the concept of beauty towards the sublime.  

Accompanying this personal and mysterious alphabet, in the display cases spread around the curved gallery - finally in a set-up which is not designed to hide this extraordinary venue - we have lookbooks, photographs, notes, sketches, bronze, bone and knitted accessories, his famous boots, and various objets particuliers. A nest and skull from Owens’ desk, perfect images of the harmony between grace and power, stand out from among these items.

Rick Owens is a master of the cut; this allows him to pass from dresses with trains, a reinterpretation of the decadent Hollywood aesthetics of the 1930s much loved by him - a quote in the exhibition reads: “My aesthetic is a very simple recipe – a black and white, art deco, Cecil B. Mille lurid bible epic.” -, to de-constructed men’s suits, beginning with the t-shirts and shorts combination. The aim of Owens’s revolution is clearly shown in the innovation of menswear: to introduce radical silhouettes into daily life. This is a revolution which is also carried forward in his furnishing lines, represented here by a number of monolithic chairs which clearly recall both Brancusi, as well as the forms of Californian skatepark bowls. At the end, the most memorable fashion shows are a must-see: from the magnificent Dirt at the Palais de Tokyo (SS 2018) to the very powerful combinations of bodies in Cyclops (SS 2016), from the almost Shamanic performances of Vicious (SS 2014) to the theatricality of Naska (SS 2012).

From the very title, the exhibition confirms how, despite all the possible exegeses, the underlying meaning of Owens’s creations remains multi-form and undecipherable. This mystery is the source of his expressive strength: a sense of indescribable and esoteric enchantment lies at the heart of his creative universe. 

Fig.7 Rick Owens.Subhuman Inhuman Superhuman, exhibition view, Triennale di Milano, 2017
Rick Owens.Subhuman Inhuman Superhuman, exhibition view, Triennale di Milano, 2017
Rick Owens. Subhuman Inhuman Superhuman
Exhibition dates:
until 25 March 2018
Triennale di Milano
viale Alemagna 6, Milan

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